Blair Witch (2016)

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Director: Adam Wingard

Stars: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid

Same old tricks

I’m not against found footage films like a lot of people are. Fair enough if you suffer from motion sickness, but selfishly, I don’t. They’re a great way of creating a sense of scary realism and intensity on a low budget. Cannibal Holocaust may have been innovative enough to begin the concept but there’s no doubt that 1999’s The Blair Witch Project started the trend. Love it or hate it, it’s an essential piece of filmmaking and a masterpiece of movie marketing. Personally, I’m not a fan of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s original film. Despite a creepy final ten seconds and an intriguing set-up of the Blair witch legend, the film is basically 80 minutes of people arguing in the woods over a lost map. There’s no big payoff, nothing is ever shown and mostly I just find very boring and tedious.

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So when Blair Witch was revealed, I wasn’t exactly excited like a lot of people were. I love the Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett duo. The Guest was good and You’re Next was great so I was looking forward to their next project, The Woods which turned out to be a secret pseudonym for a sequel to The Blair Witch Project. Early Reviews came out and I suddenly became very excited. People were calling it a game changer for horror films and one even went so far as to say that the film will wreck you, so of course I was sold. I avoided all trailers and decided to pop over and see it on opening day, hoping to watch a genuinely scary found footage horror film. Unfortunately I came out extremely disappointed.

Blair Witch isn’t a bad film, but it’s certainly no game-changer. In fact, it’s nothing much to write home about at all. It is simply an average horror film and in my opinion the worst offering from the directing/writing duo so far. One of the main problems is that it plays out almost exactly like the original Blair Witch Project, albeit a bit more souped up. Instead of having a group of characters going into the woods to investigate about the legend, we have a group of characters going into the woods to find Heather, the main character from the original, who happens to be our protagonist’s sister. If there was no mention of Heather then Blair Witch would definitely be classed as a remake, rather than a sequel. Even fans of this film admit that it follows almost every beat of the original: there’s the getting lost, finding twig men hanging outside the tent, running away in the dark from something that can’t be seen and even the iconic old house finale.

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Blair Witch offers no new surprises and the first half of the film is almost as tedious as the original. We’re not really made to care for any of the characters and none are properly developed. They’re just your average group of young adults being lined up for the slaughterhouse, with the technicians from The Cabin in the Woods at the control panel watching it all play out. When a character dies, we don’t really care which is sort of a problem when we’re made to stay with them for 90 minutes. There are some nice moments of good humour, but for the most part not a great deal happens in the first half. It’s just like watching some friends go on a camping trip. It would’ve been an ideal opportunity for some character development, but instead we just get the usual arguing and friendly banal banter.

Once we hit around the midway point, spooky stuff starts happening but it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. There are some tense moments when characters go off on their own and hear strange noises deep in the woods, but there’s never any payoff. A good scare is like a good joke. There has to be an extended moment of suspense and then an explosive punchline, but Blair Witch seems to always miss the punchline. I was always on edge and waiting for something scary to happen in the woods, but nothing really ever does. I did like the strong feeling of isolation though. There’s a real sense of panic and stress as we realise that these characters are going to end up lost in these woods for what could be an eternity. But whilst the atmosphere is good, the scares are too uninspired to be effective.

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Things do start to pick up in the last twenty minutes though. After what feels like endless screaming and running in the woods, we come across the dreaded old house from the first film. This is when things start to become intense and genuinely horrifying at times. There’s a huge sense of dread and unpredictability which had me on the edge of my seat. I thought, “finally! Maybe this is the part that’s going to wreck me” but it wasn’t. Despite a couple of effective jump scares and moments of intensity, the finale fails to live up to the expectations which it promised. It did a good job of building up tension, but just like the scenes in the woods, it failed to conjure up a truly scary punchline. In fact, the film ends with a very disappointing whimper which left me wanting a lot more.

I don’t mind slow-burners but there has to be a payoff worth waiting for. The original Wicker Man and Kill List are good examples of this, but Blair Witch fails in delivering. In the end, it’s a perfectly serviceable horror film. It uses the found footage aspect well and makes good use of utilising new filming technologies. It’s also better and far more entertaining that the original, but that’s not really high praise coming from a detractor of it. I suppose that I just fell for the hype and I don’t want you to do the same. It has moments which are scarier than most mainstream horror films, but there’s nothing that will shake you to your core here. Hardened horror nuts are not going to be impressed. It may be worth a quick look when it gets released on DVD but it’s not worth seeing on the big screen. If you want a truly scary found footage film then stick to [REC] of Noroi: The Curse. In a year full of great horror films, Blair Witch disappointingly seems to be the first hiccup.

sixoutoften

Where the Dead Go to Die (2012)

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Director: Jimmy ScreamerClauz

Stars: Ruby Larocca, Brandon Slagle, Joey Smack

This ain’t Pixar folks

This review is going to be subjective because I’m not like most people who get scared by horror films like The Exorcist or The Shining. I get scared by strange things. Things that bury themselves into your psyche and fester for a long time. That’s why I’m such a fan of David Lynch’s surreal films and why (what most people would describe as) an unwatchable mess like Inland Empire is a frightening masterpiece to me. Similarly, some people find videos of glitches from The Sims hilarious, whereas I find them chilling with those strange and nightmarish impossible contortions. Where the Dead Go to Die is like one big Sims glitch.


Many will see it as an atrociously animated and badly voice acted mess, and they wouldn’t be wrong. This has to be the worst animation ever committed to film. In fact, it looks as though it was made on The Sims with a few disturbing expansion packs which allow your sims to woohoo with animals and travel to a kaleidoscopic hell. This will make the film borderline unwatchable for some people, but for me it made it all the more horrifying. Likewise, a little boy being voiced by a man mimicking a screechy child’s voice is much more frightening to me than being voiced by an actual child. It’s extremely uncomfortable as it feels like we’re watching something Satanic that shouldn’t be watched.

Where the Dead Go to Die has to be one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen and I don’t get too disturbed easily either. This film is up there with Salo, Martyrs and all he rest. If it was a live action production then I’m pretty sure that the anonymous director, who goes by Jimmy ScreamerClauz, would be arrested. Whilst the animation is beyond poor, the ideas are still there and these ideas are seriously messed up. I don’t want to spoil it for people who want to experience this mind fudge, but there are some depraved ideas involving children which are explored explicitly in this film. They may only look like blobs, but that didn’t make it any less upsetting to watch, for me at least. Especially combined with the horrifying musical score in the background.


I feel like I should delve into the story a little bit. Where the Dead Go to Die is an anthology film which follows three characters living in the same neighbourhood (I think) who all come in contact with a demonic dog. The first segment tells the story of a boy who is convinced by the dog to kill his mother’s unborn child as it’s the antichrist. This story certainly gives you a taste of things to come. It’s just utter madness with some terribly disturbing ideas and images thrown in. The second story kind of lost me a bit, but it concerns a man who steals people’s memories after killing them. It’s the weakest story and is mainly an excuse to go overboard on the hellish, surreal imagery. The last story is the strongest and most disturbing. It concerns a neglected boy with his dead Siamese twin’s head stuck to the side of his face, who falls in love with a little girl. Needless to say, she harbours some very dark secrets at home.

You can try and think about the absolute sickest thing in the world and this film will show you worse. I can’t decide whether I liked it or not. You could argue that it’s a film designed to shock you for the sake of it, but there is actually a story here (several actually) and I’d argue that this Jimmy ScreamerClauz bloke actually manages to respectively weave the story with the moments of depravity. This isn’t like August Underground where it’s just one sick pointless scene trying to outdo the other. The disturbing themes do actually have something to do with the surreal story, particularly in the last segment. There’s a moment where I was almost moved to tears, just due to the intensity of the concept presented on screen. The relentless bleakness also started to get to me after a while.


Where the Dead Go to Die is not a good film on a technical level, but it’s unlike anything I have ever seen. There’s no denying that it’s innovative, whether that’s in a good way or not. It does get bogged down in its moments of relentless surreal glitchy imagery, but when it focuses, I found myself strangely captivated. On one hand I find the film trashy and stupid but on the other I find it startling and original. It’s an endlessly dark, depraved and upsetting film. It disturbed me, horrified me and affected me both emotionally and physically. It’s a film which I won’t ever forget, and that has to be worth something doesn’t it?

four-out-of-ten

 

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

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Director: Mandie Fletcher

Stars: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Swahala

An honest review from a massive fan

You might not think it to look at me but Ab Fab is my life. I’ve been watching Absolutely Fabulous ever since I can remember. In fact I can remember quite vividly being five or six years old and completely howling at all the episodes my Mum used to watch, which is pretty bad parenting to be honest with all the drug taking and general naughtiness in every episode. However I’m so thankful that my mother let me watch it because I think it really shaped my life in terms of comedy. Me and my sister have to watch Absolutely Fabulous in order to get through life. I don’t think there’s any show on TV that feels fresher and more hilarious the more you watch it apart from Ab Fab.

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The film has to be my most anticipated film ever. Here are a few points just to give you an idea of how excited I was for Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie: I’m traveling Australia at the moment so I stayed up until 3am to watch the Leicester Square premiere on a live stream, I had at least four separate dreams about watching the film (one of them was a dream within a dream), I refreshed the Ab Fab Facebook and Twitter page obsessively every day to get every scrap of news, I watched every single interview with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, I refused to watch the trailer in fear of it spoiling all the best bits and I entered every competition I could find to win tickets to the premiere in Sydney. I also won those tickets and spent about $600 to fly to Sydney in order to attend that premiere.

This is a show which I know every single word to and still laugh every time. This is far more than a show to me, it’s a religion, it’s a drug which I constantly crave. Attending that premiere was one of the greatest nights of my life. The whole experience was completely overwhelming. I’d just been within touching distance of two of my biggest idols in life (Jen and Jo if you hadn’t have guessed) and then the film played. It was all too much to take in. Of course it was a total blast but it went by in a flash! I genuinely thought that it was halfway through but then the credits rolled and I was dumbfounded. I saw the film again a couple of days later just so I could properly assess it.

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Obviously if you’ve read all of that jargon above then you’ll know that this review is going to be horrendously biased. I will say though that if you’ve never seen an episode of Absolutely Fabulous then don’t start with the film because it is made for the fans. Even if you’re a causal fan, the chances are that you won’t like the film. Jennifer definitely wrote this film for the hardcore fans and I take my hat off to her for that. I’m sure that the studio would’ve pressured her to try and make the film accessible for everyone, but she hasn’t done that. It’s a continuation of the series and it’s all the better for it. Ab Fab has always moved forward so why should it stop for newcomers now?

I watched the film in a theatre jam-packed with fans as big as me and there were massive laughs and cheers at almost every minute. I’ve got to be honest and say that I wasn’t entirely sure if it would work as a film. With all the celebrity cameos being announced it looked as though it could slide into the Mrs Brown’s Boys D’movie route. Also Jennifer has never written a film before and film screenplays are very different to the telly. However, I can safely say that Absolutely Fabulous does completely work on the big screen. The cameos aren’t as forced as I had feared, in fact many celebs end up playing actual roles instead of just themselves.

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The film opens in the only way it could with Patsy and Eddy rocking up to a fashion show, getting blathered and stumbling back the next morning to straight-laced Saffy in a state that would make Lindsay Lohan blush. It’s a stellar (or should I say Stella?) opening which basically sums up why we love Ab Fab in five minutes. From then on we’re straight into an onslaught of fan favourite characters including: Mother, Bo, Marshal, Claudia Bing and Lulu all wrapped up in a hysterical, albeit fairly loose, plot about Edina accidentally knocking Kate Moss into the Thames.

It has to be said that Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley are absolutely on fire in their roles as the fabulous friends. A lot of reviewers seem shocked that they’re still so good after 25 years but they’ve never really stopped playing these characters. People look at it as a show from the 90’s and whilst the last full series aired in 2003, there have been specials leading all the way up to 2012 so all of the cast involved remain as fresh as ever. Joanna Lumley in particular shines in this film though. She’s 70 years old and still has such impeccable comic timing and chews up every scene she’s in despite not eating since 1973.

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I was surprised at the amount of references and in-jokes included in the film for the fans but all of them were a delight. There are plenty of fresh jokes fired at you as well. The laughs come thick and fast, barely giving you time to breathe for 90 minutes! The film also moves at quite a nice pace in the first half, setting itself up for a proper comic caper but it never quite lives up to that promise. The film’s marketed as “Patsy and Eddy on the run!” But without spoiling anything, this doesn’t really happen. At first I was a little disappointed at the lack of momentum in the second half but on a second viewing I realised that a big chase movie really wouldn’t be in the spirit of Ab Fab. It’s always been more about sitting back with a bottle of bolly and this is what the film sticks to.

It might not be as strong as say, Alpha Papa, in terms of sitcom to movie adaptations but as a comedy it does the most important part perfectly, making us laugh. The effects might be a little shoddy and Mandie Fletcher’s directing cockeyed at times, but the film never fails to deliver laughs. It also doesn’t lose focus too much so there’s always the perfect balance between plot drive and comedy. How wonderful it is too to have a film made by and starring older women! Everyone knows that the film industry is an ageist and sexist one run predominantly by men, so it’s lovely to see a film dominated by talented females doing so well at the box office.

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Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. It isn’t going to sweep the oscars and nor is it trying to. Jennifer Saunders has created a consistently hilarious romp for the fans which allows you to switch off and be happy. Most reviewers call the film over-stretched but if anything I found it a little rushed and under developed! There are plenty of plot points and new characters left unexplored to their full potential but hopefully all will be resolved in the inevitable sequel. It’s not the best film ever made but there are lines in this film which I’ll be using for the rest of my life. Just like the TV series, it’s endlessly re-watchable and, as Patsy so perfectly puts it when asked by Lola why she’s stuck around for so long, “It’s bloody good fun!” And isn’t that the reason why us fans have been sticking around for so long too? For hardcore fans of the show, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is a comedy classic.

nine-out-of-ten

Don’t Breathe (2016)

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Director: Fede Alvarez

Stars: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette

You won’t be able to!

Being a horror fanatic, I’d been in the know about Don’t Breathe for months before the trailer had even come out. It had premiered at some weird festival and started generating a lot of hype. “The best horror movie in decades!” You know that sort of thing which people seem to say about every good horror movie coming out. So I’d been excited about it and I was also a fan of Fede Alvarez’s fun Evil Dead remake. I avoided any trailers and tried to put aside the general hype after being disappointed with Green Room earlier in the year and just went in with the mindset that this was going to be an above average horror film. I needn’t have worried because Don’t Breathe totally lives up to the hype.

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Don’t Breathe is exactly the kind of horror film I love. Intense, thrilling and relentless. It’s set mainly in one location and follows three young tea leafs robbing an elderly blind man. Fede does a great job of crucially making us care for these criminals, or at least one of them. Jane Levy is the girl you’ll be rooting for here and we’re given a lovely bit of context which outlines her desperate situation so that our sympathies lie with her. It takes just enough time to build the characters and the plot so that we care about the rest of the film.

Once the kids step into the little old house the film really begins and I was left holding my breath until the very end. At first I was a little concerned as I couldn’t see how the filmmakers could spread robbing a blind OAP into a 90 minute film. I mean, he’s blind, how hard can it blummin’ be? It turns out very. This isn’t just any old blind man, this is an ex soldier with ears like a bat who’s still equipped with the skills to beat any grown man to a pulp. He’s a character who you’ll go away remembering thanks to Stephen Lang’s dominant presence as well as the character’s dark backstory which is best left unrevealed.

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Don’t Breathe spends most of its running time squeezing every last bit of suspense it can. It reminded me a bit of the French horror, Inside, although of course far less extreme. Just in the sense that it’s an absolute roller coaster despite being confined to one location and a few characters. It’s a really intense film and at times I was left covering my mouth just in case I made a noise which the blind man could hear. All of the tension comes from Fede Alvarez’s superb directing skills though. We’re given long and still takes instead of quick shaky edits so you can see what’s happening on screen. The use of silence is particularly key in creating tension though and the effect is used to its absolute best here.

Whilst the film isn’t the most original, it still feels fresh and unpredictable thanks to the superb high level of quality across all departments. The directing is masterful, the writing is taut, the music is effective, the acting is good for the most part, although the young Tom Cruise lookalike was a little wooden at times. The film also offers some deliciously dark ideas which I’ve never seen explored before in a horror film. So whilst we’ve seen this kind of scenario before (Livid has exactly the same premise) Don’t Breathe still proves itself to be one of the very best of its kind.

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To say any more about Don’t Breathe would be to spoil the nail-biting twists and turns in store. All you need to know is that it’s a relentlessly intense experience which never gives you a chance to breathe. It looks like Fede will have a long and promising career in horror, as with only two films under his belt, he has proven that he has the skills to create some of the best horror films that Hollywood has to offer. And let’s just take a moment to appreciate all the fantastic horror films 2016 has had to offer. In any other year, Don’t Breathe would’ve been my number one but with films like: The Conjuring 2, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Witch (my personal favourite of the year so far) and the upcoming Blair Witch, we’ve been treated to a surge of seriously high quality horror. Don’t Breathe can still sit proudly among them though. It’s a taut, adrenaline-fuelled ride which I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying.

nine-out-of-ten

Grotesque (2009)

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Director: Kôji Shiraishi

Stars: Kotoha Hiroyama, Hiroaki Kawatsure, Shave igeo Ôsako

Worst. First date. Ever

It’s funny because if Grotesque wasn’t banned in the UK then I don’t think I would have bothered watching it. No one would probably have even heard of Grotesque if the BBFC slapped an 18 certificate on it, but because they refused it has turned into something of a cult hit. It’s a curiosity piece for connoisseurs of carnage but those looking to get truly disturbed are likely to be disappointed. I don’t quite understand the reasons for the ban as Grotesque shows us nothing that we haven’t seen before. In fact, it’s so over-the-top in its ideas and execution that it’s more likely to illicit laughs from viewers more than anything.

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If you look at Kôji Shiraishi’s earlier found footage horror, Noroi: The Curse then you’ll find an expertly executed chiller that relies on atmosphere and imagery to produce genuine scares. Grotesque is pretty much the opposite to Noroi. I can’t believe it’s made by the same director as Noroi which is quite possibly the scariest film I have ever experienced. The only thing scary about Grotesque is how bad it is. To sum it up, it’s two people in a room getting tortured by a psychopathic doctor. They were just walking back from their first date and a crazy man bops them on the head and they have to sexually excite him with their will to survive.

It’s a terribly thin plot which only the thick and the psychotic would appreciate. Somehow though it isn’t as boring as it sounds. It’s only 70 minutes long but even still, a film set in one room with only three characters could easily drag, but Grotesque zips along quite merrily. This is the only redeeming quality of the film, it’s never boring. But maybe that’s because I was just waiting to see how far my cringe threshold could take. I won’t spoil anything, but I was thrashing about like a sheep about to get sheared in a scene which involved an eye. I hate eyes and this scene is almost up there with Zombie Flesh Eaters.

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It’s just a series of gore scenes really and I have to say that the special effects are very good. The acting was also better than I was expecting, with the doctor being particularly menacing and convincing. It’s also pretty well-made for the most part, although parts did look very amateur. In the end though Grotesque is just a pointless exercise in shock. It ends up being so melodramatic and ridiculous though that it just becomes funny.

Grotesque is worth one watch if you’re curious and a hardened horror nut. Most people will know what their getting themselves into and at least there’s more entertainment value in this than seriously sick stuff like the Guinea Pig and Slaughtered Vomit Dolls films. This one does have a dark sense of humour but the plot is non-existent and the characters are un-investable. The amount of gore and depravity is quite shocking at times but even still it’s almost instantly forgettable as soon as the credits roll.

two-out-of-ten

 

Megan Is Missing (2011)

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Director: Michael Goi

Stars: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite

Megan isn’t the only thing that’s missing

Every self-respecting weird person who’s looking to get disturbed has heard of Megan Is Missing. The only reason I sought out the film is because I’d read how so many people find it horrendously disturbing. If you hop on to the IMDb message boards (always a good place to find opinions by level-headed people) then you’ll find a lot of posts by self-confessed horror movie addicts saying how they found the last twenty minutes of Megan Is Missing to be the most haunting thing they’ve ever seen in a horror film which is quite a big statement! I’m also one of those people who don’t really find many films disturbing. The Human Centipede 2 didn’t particularly bother me and I managed to watch Salo alone in the dark pretty comfortably (ish) so I’m always on the lookout for films that might actually give me sleepless nights.

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Megan Is Missing is atrocious. Let’s get that out the way first, it is absolutely embarrassingly bad. As soon as it started my eyes widened in terror at the beyond horrendous acting from the two main characters in the film, Megan and Amy. Both of them can’t act for a toffee apple and that’s being kind about them! Megan’s wooden bedpost is probably the best actor in the whole film and steals the show. Although, let’s face it there really isn’t much of a show to steal. It presents itself as a true story, but this is impossible to take seriously thanks to the stilted acting and forced chemistry between Megan and Amy.

As soon as the film starts we’re treated to dialogue from Amy which goes something like, “We’re filming on my expensive new video camera, Daddy loves me.” To which Megan replies, “My Daddy loves me too, slut” and we get a painfully wooden, “Bitch!” Back from Amy. Such Shakespearean dialogue continues throughout the film and it’s probably supposed to sound like natural 14 year-old girl banter, but the actors deliver their lines like their reading them from the cameraman holding up a cardboard sign. It’s just a total cringe-fest and the characters couldn’t get any more stereotypical or two dimensional. We’ve got Megan the confident, popular school bike and Amy the unpopular, angelic prude.

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There is an attempt to build up characters but it just ends up resulting in ridiculous clichés. At one point I even predicted in my head exactly what Megan was going to say as she breaks down awkwardly on camera about her dysfunctional upbringing. We also get treated to a needlessly long monologue from Megan about her first sexual experience which just ends up sounding like dialogue from a porn film. I also liked the director’s idea of a teen house party complete with torch lights and girls randomly jumping up and down going “woo!”

It’s a found footage film so it’s essential for it to have a realistic atmosphere, which it fails at miserably. It does make for unintentionally hilarious viewing though. It’s about a girl talking to a randomer over the Internet and ending up missing (surprise, surprise) but the film is extremely heavy-handed with these themes. It almost feels like a student film at times, especially when they try to create news footage. I actually laughed out loud at one point where they do a re-construction of the kidnapping. I also loved the part where the newsreader teases the next story about a cocker spaniel driving a car through a shop window! I’m not kidding, the filmmakers should’ve made a film based on that idea.

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Basically, the first hour of Megan Is Missing is an hilarious example of how not to make a film. But then the next 20 minutes arrive and everything changes. It’s difficult to talk about the last 20 minutes without giving away big plot twists, but I can say that it did actually disturb me. The acting gets a little more convincing (big stress on ‘little’) and the film becomes relentlessly terrifying. The unintentional funniness disappears and we’re presented with a genuinely chilling atmosphere of horror and a sobering sense of realism. Some people say that it’s like some sort of indulgent fetish thing for the director but I think it’s actually done in a way that’s not too exploitative or gratuitous. It’s actually a well-made bit of harrowing horror.

So, Megan Is Missing is a film of two halves and both halves are horrendous for different reasons. The first three quarters have no redeeming qualities, whereas the last quarter has the power to genuinely shock and unsettle without over-stepping the mark or trying to be nasty for the sake of it. It’s a difficult film to recommend, but if you know what you’re getting in to and are a hardened horror fan then it’s definitely worth one watch. Most of it is total rubbish but in the end it presented some truly frightening ideas which did haunt me and will probably continue to haunt me for some time. So that has got to be worth something, hasn’t it?

threeoutoften

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Director: James Wan

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O Connor, Madison Wolfe

Cor, blimey guvner! A sequel actually worth your sixpence piece

I remember being pretty disappointed when The Conjuring first came out. The Internet was building it up to be one of the scariest films ever made and I was getting really excited to be properly scared. I don’t usually get scared in films, but James Wan’s very own Insidious did manage to conjure up (pardon the pun) some genuinely terrifying imagery so I had every right to expect the same from The Conjuring but the film didn’t scare me at all. It wasn’t until I re-watched it recently that I realised that whilst it isn’t a scary film to me, I can appreciate it for being a very well-made horror film. If you take the hype away from it, there’s a lot to love.

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So when The Conjuring 2 reviews came out and were citing similar hype, I tried to put aside the claims of it being even better than the first film and went in with an open mind, almost expecting it to be a disappointment, but it wasn’t. The Conjuring 2 is one of those very rare sequels (even rarer in the horror genre) which manages to better the first. It still has its problems and I still don’t think it’s scary or that it outdoes Insidious, but it is a fine example of haunted house horror which can stand proudly on its own.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s simply more of the same when the film starts as it’s almost identical to the first film. A seemingly unrelated case opens the film and the title flashes up on the screen along with some jargon about the film being true and this case is yet again the scariest The Warrens’ have ever encountered blah blah blah. It’s basic scare tactics that might work for horror virgins but us aficionados will just be rolling our eyes. To be fair, the opening scene is actually very well directed and gives you some idea of the film’s overall quality.

We’re soon plunged into 1970’s England and we’re given constant reminders of this which is something that irritated me. Maybe it’s because I’m English myself but the stereotypes were often quite overwhelming, although amusing. Every car in the driveway is a Mini Cooper, The Queen often pops up on the telly and everyone has a seriously strong cockney accent. I know that it’s set in London but even so it sounds like most of the actors have moulded their accents on Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. I also found Frances O Connor a little wooden and unconvincing at times as well as a few of the kids.

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Overall the acting is terrific though. I was particularly impressed with Madison Wolfe as Margaret, the main girl, who gave off Linda Blair vibes at times. The role asks a lot of such a young actress but she tackles it head on and it’s pretty extraordinary to watch. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are also as excellent as ever as our favourite paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. I really liked how the film focused so much on their relationship so that it became the emotional core of the film. Similarly, Wan takes his time to carefully build the characters in England so that we become invested in them and actually care about what’s going to happen to them. It’s such a rarity these days to find a horror film with characters you feel involved with and this is the main aspect which makes The Conjuring 2 so strong and compelling.

The other great thing about the film is its atmosphere. James Wan clearly has a deep love for the horror genre and The Conjuring 2 is a labour of this love. The whole film is deliciously gothic and over-the-top, it’s a horror fan’s dream come true. There are a lot of spooky scenes crammed into the film and whilst they didn’t particularly scare me, you can’t help but appreciate the stylishness and effectiveness of them. James Wan really is a master behind the camera and knows how to create genuine tension. Like the first film, a lot of scenes are filmed skilfully in one fluid take and it often becomes very intense, especially combined with the striking loud score and sound design.

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Even the typical horror clichés like possession and creaky doors are done in such an effective way that you don’t care that you’ve seen it a hundred times before. With a running time of over two hours, I was still left feeling eager for more. The Conjuring 2 creates a gorgeous world of horror and allows you to sink within it. It will leave horror fans consistently grinning from ear to ear. The demon/ghost designs in this one are also much more creative than the first film. The nun character (played by the same lady who acted as the iconic bum in Mulholland Dr) was memorably creepy and a bizarre character known as the crooked man is weirdly delightful, although some might find him a jarringly out of place.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre then I can’t really see any reason for disliking The Conjuring 2, and if you’re not a horror fan then what are you bloody doing watching a horror film? Recent films like The Witch, It Follows and The Babadook may be better but that doesn’t make The Conjuring 2 obsolete. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of supernatural horror which delivers atmosphere and suspense in spades. Some of it does feel a little contrived towards the end but the finale’s so excitingly pulse-pounding and intense that you’re unlikely to care. It makes sure that the audience actually care about the people on screen so it’s never dull for one moment. A third film will definitely be on the cards and if it carries on being as solid as this one then we might be looking at the best supernatural horror franchise since… Well, ever.

eight-out-of-ten